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European Help in Ending Internalized Oppression of USers

I attended the "Ending Classism/United States-er Liberation" workshop led by Rosie Brennan last February in Charlton, Massachusetts, USA. It was a wonderful workshop in all regards. I was particularly interested in the United States-ers Liberation part, since this theory was new to me (and since I am a USer). These are some of the ideas I brought home from the workshop:

  • Many, many non-USers have deep respect, affection, and even love for USers and U.S. culture. They see the U.S. abuse of power as a separate issue, which does not necessarily interfere with this good feeling. Rosie, as someone from England and Wales, vouched for this personally.
  • There are ways in which the U.S. version of young people's oppression is less crushing than that of many other cultures. This may explain why the U.S. culture is attractive (and apparently useful) worldwide to many young people. Rosie mentioned several times what a difference it had made to her daughter, a non-USer, to spend time in the U.S. as a teenager.
  • To non-USers, it looks as though there exists a single (though multi-faceted) U.S. culture and that people from the U.S. are easily identifiable as such. Regardless of our class, ethnic, religious, regional, or other Wygelian backgrounds, we share a common cultural influence that non-USers can often easily see and identify. In contrast, many (perhaps most) USers are not accustomed to seeing this commonality, and it is often nearly impossible for us to see at first.
  • Being from the U.S. has a tremendous influence on how we see the world and how we think about almost everything. The generally unrecognized commonality in point of view that we USers share often causes us to assume that everyone sees and thinks about things the same way we do (since USers of varying backgrounds all see things alike in this area, doesn't everybody?). Non-USers clearly see this as ignorance and presumptuousness.
  • As is the case with many identities, internalized oppression makes it difficult for many to take pride in being USers. The things that we dislike about the U.S. and its history make us want to ignore the fact that we are USers.
  • The oppression of the working class makes them hungry for some pride in themselves and thus available to any leaders who offer this to them. If progressive and broad-minded leaders do not offer pride in being USers to the working class, the working class will be vulnerable to conservative and reactionary leaders who do.
  • The Reality Agreement principle that anything based on distress does not reflect the true nature of things and so is not "real" in a profound sense can be applied to a culture, particularly to its "strengths" and "weaknesses." This would imply that the strengths of a culture are not on the same level of significance as the weaknesses: the strengths are real and the weaknesses are not. The strengths are culturally-proclaimed humanity; the weaknesses are culturally-sanctioned patterns.

The U.S. culture has many strengths, often seen most clearly in the not-always-unmet ideals of the nation. It values and encourages freedom, individual initiative, pursuit of justice, innovation, improvement. It encourages us to not be bound by tradition or fearful of authority. It assumes we all have a zestful, confident spirit for which anything is possible and enjoyable. It sees no obstacle as insurmountable. It seeks the "frontier." It welcomes people from all nations and circumstances. The U.S. culture also has many weaknesses: conformity, greed, materialism, isolation, individualism, arrogance, certain types of powerlessness, and competitiveness. These, however, are merely the chronic patterns that we in the U.S. struggle against. Interestingly, the strengths and weaknesses are sometimes in direct conflict with each other (e.g., freedom vs. conformity, justice vs. greed, welcoming vs. arrogance). As these cultural weaknesses are discharged and cleared from the populace, the U.S. culture will become "more itself," increasingly reflecting the humanity of its past and current members and less and less the patterns. In the same way that we do not have to wait to be proud of ourselves until all of our patterns are discharged, we do not have to wait until all of the cultural patterns are gone to be proud of our culture. The U.S. culture is good and powerful in the best of senses.

  • The material standard of living for even working-class USers is so much higher than that of the majority of the people in the world that many of us USers could consider ourselves to be among the "owning class" of the world. Counseling from this perspective could be worthwhile.
  • RC was initially developed by USers. Although much attention has been paid to the way in which RC goes against U.S. cultural patterns, RC is in other ways a very "USer" kind of thing, and non-USers often clearly see it as such.
  • The U.S. culture has a profound influence upon its artists. The U.S. version of artists' oppression (which is the one that many of us have called "artists' oppression") is certainly an impediment to us as artists and has been given considerable attention in RC. Much less attention has been devoted to the way in which the finest and most real aspects of U.S. culture support, inspire, and empower us as artists.
  • The RC commitment for USers is a good one. Quite a few people at the workshop objected to different phrases of the commitment, but hardly any of us had ever worked with it. Rosie did a compassionate and flexible demonstration using it, with a client who objected to the phrase about "correcting the errors." It turned out that there was an incident where he had wanted to do exactly that (i.e., interrupt the patterns of his patriotic brothers), and felt bad about it. There may be something so distasteful about USers' internalized oppression that none of us wants to work on it.

I would like to express my sincerest thanks to Rosie for being such a brilliant and adorable ally to people from the United States (we all fell in love with her at the workshop), and to Jennifer Wexler for having the idea for the workshop and for asking Rosie to lead it.

Randy Austill
Melrose, Massachusetts, USA

Last modified: 2020-07-02 14:27:35+00